By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Labour leader Ivana Bacik has said the “manufactured outrage” and “shouty” approach of some politicians is not her style, and that it puts voters off.
Ms Bacik became a TD in last year’s by-election in her third attempt at entering the Dáil.
Eight months later she rose to the position of leader of the Labour Party, uncontested.
This was done through what was a polite ousting of Alan Kelly as leader after being confronted by his party colleagues.
In an emotional late-night address to the media in March, while surrounded by his party colleagues, Mr Kelly said if Labour was “to survive and thrive, then we do need to make changes”.
Ms Bacik, a barrister, law professor and life-long trade unionist, said she is enjoying being leader of Labour, and said she is not worried about the party languishing in the opinion polls.
She said that polling was not the only reason why Mr Kelly stood aside.
“Alan did give a range of reasons for his resignation. And he made reference to polling but, I think for me, opinion polls are something that you obviously watch, but you take with a grain of salt too.
“And certainly I’ve been in politics long enough to know that you have to also just be true to your own views. If I’d been too focused on polling, I’d never have run in the Dublin Bay South by-election.”
Ms Bacik secured 13,382 votes and 30 per cent of first-preference votes to win that seat – well ahead of Labour’s 6.6 per cent in the 2020 general election.
She saw off stiff competition from Fine Gael councillor James Geoghegan, who finished on 9,235 votes, and Sinn Féin’s Lynn Boylan, who got 5,237.
“At the start of that, it was seen as going to be a contest between Fine Gael and Sinn Féin,” Ms Bacik said.
“That’s certainly what the polls were indicating in April of 2021, when Eoghan Murphy stepped down.
“The reality was, we were able to confound the pollsters, and to show that there was a real appetite for change, and for constructive change and a different message, a centre-left socialist message.”
On comparisons with Sinn Féin, Ms Bacik could not be more different from the Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald, leading the most popular party in various opinion polls.
Mrs McDonald’s approach during Dáil debates is evocative and visceral, which is in contrast to Ms Bacik’s constructive political style.
This includes acknowledgements that Government ministers mean well, and referencing the need for “a Donogh O’Malley moment” – a former Fianna Fáil education minister from the 1960s – when calling for reform of early-years education.
“It’s my style,” she said when asked if her co-operative tone is working with voters.
“It is a different sort of style to the perhaps the more shouty politics that’s often engaged in in the Dáil chamber. But I think it’s more than a style, it’s a belief in how you do politics that actually does resonate with people.
“It resonated in the by-election in Dublin Bay South. I heard time and again on the doors, particularly from women, the shouting, adversarial, manufactured outrage that passes for political debate, that that is a turn-off for many people – not just women, for younger people.
“I just see people utterly put off by that inauthentic manner of outrage where they know it’s only switched on.”
Ms Bacik is due to take up the spokesperson role for the biggest crisis facing the country and Government – housing.
She has called for the Government to use a “carrot and big stick approach” to ensure that planning permissions are activated, and to address labour shortages in construction “in a creative way”.
When asked about a Dublin allowance, proposed by her party colleague Aodhan O’Riordain in response to the increasing cost of housing in the capital, she said the Government should examine it.
“I think it’s something the Government should really look at now, I’ve talked about a Dublin penalty. That’s the problem, that’s what people are currently facing.”
A three-year rent freeze would be another way of addressing it, she added.
When asked about whether she is worried about her future as leader if there is no significant improvement in Labour’s poll figures, she said “no”.
“I’m in this for the long game. So, opinion polls, we hope to improve, of course, but it’s not our primary focus.”
She said that her focus is on growing the party and recruiting new candidates, particularly ensuring that 40% of candidates are women going into the local and European elections in 2024.
When asked about Labour’s aims for the upcoming elections, including the next general election, Ms Bacik said she does want to make gains – but did not specify how big.
“We certainly want to improve our position at each of the elections clearly, I mean, we actually had a very good locals in 2019. We have 56 councillors, but we now have about 25 local area reps, and as I say, recruiting new candidates, particularly women candidates and younger candidates.
“So our aim is to improve on those, on that showing, but as I said, it was a good showing. And we have four senators – that makes us on equal footing with Sinn Féin in the Seanad.”